Quincy Company to Launch Year’s Second-Coolest Xbox Game

Don’t bother trying to call or e-mail me Tuesday morning. I’ll be in line at Best Buy waiting for my copy of Bioshock.

The video game industry’s hype machine long ago anointed Halo 3, due in the United States on September 25, as the favored blockbuster for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console this year. But if there’s a second-coolest Xbox game, it’s probably Bioshock, created by Quincy, MA-based game studio 2K Boston. The company—known until recently under the much cleverer name Irrational Games—is led by creative brain Ken Levine, who conceived Bioshock as a conventional first-person-shooter with a very unconventional story line and sensibility.

Think Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with a large dollop of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and dashes of The Andromeda Strain and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—all powered along by a plot and a political philosophy that’s plucked directly from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

The “Big Daddy” monster from 2KBoston’s BioshockAs the hero of the game (according to those who have played demo versions), your plane crashes at sea and you’re forced to take refuge in Rapture, a rusting underwater Utopia created in the 1930s by megalomaniacal engineer Andrew Ryan as an alternative to the supposedly soul-draining life above the surface. Rapture is in the grips of a civil war over genetic-enhancement technologies derived from a sea slug that emits stem cells with near-magical powers. Players must accumulate enough enhancements to get them past the usual cast of insane mutants, find out who the bad guys really are, and stop them. (Julian Murdoch, who spent a day hanging out with Levine at 2K Boston, has the best writeup I’ve seen over at the excellent site Gamers With Jobs.)

I’ve no idea whether this game—or any game—can deliver on the expectations created by all the pre-release talk about its literary aspirations. IGN’s video review praises the game’s creative combat options and stunning graphics—which are driven by Unreal Engine 3, the same rendering software used in the heart-pounding Xbox 360 game Gears of War—but says the Ayn Rand theme pretty much peters out after the first five minutes.

Still, it’s pretty encouraging, in this era when the rendering capacity of gaming consoles has gone so far past game designers’ ability to weave compelling stories, to see a game studio dare to move so far off the beaten path. I’ve been beating down the doors at 2K Boston (which is part of Take2Interactive, of Grand Theft Auto fame) for my own personal interview with Levine. No luck so far. But perhaps, if I’m not too busy with Bioshock, I’ll stick my head into the Xconomy office on Wednesday and let you know what I think of the game.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “Quincy Company to Launch Year’s Second-Coolest Xbox Game”

  1. Bill says:

    Well, I’ve been playing for a few hours so far – Twists – Turns – Missed opportunities – NOTHING has diminished in or after the first five minutes for me!!!!
    It plays differently with your last decision….
    Either a non gamer or a (YUK) PS3 fan wrote that part of the article!
    My hard fought PS3 is growing mold from nonuse over here…My 360 rocks – and Blue dragon, Endless sonata, which look AWESOME, then Halo3 in a few weeks, Still looking forward to Alan Wake…where will I find the time!!!!